....... Styles of Architecture

Kit / Catalog Houses

After World War I, between 1900 and 1917, middle class society was expanding and, for the first time, beginning to buy more homes. To meet growth demand, companies started expanding in the residential building industry. Kit houses purchased through mail-order became popular in the 1910s, allowing new homeowners to be a part of the design and building process and giving the option of buying the home in stages,

Between 1906 and 1940, thousands of North American homes in the United States and Canada were built according to plans sold by mail order companies such as Sears and Montgomery Ward.

Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan premiered the idea of kit houses in 1906. It wasn't until 1908 that the largest provider of kit houses, Sears, Roebuck and Co., building upon its earlier forays into building materials and house plans, entered the market for complete kit houses.

Often the entire mail order house (in the form of labeled timbers) came via freight train.

Other times, builders used local materials to construct homes according to the mail order catalog house plans.

According to Houses by Mail, over 100,000 kit houses were built in the United States between 1908 and 1940. Many people have lived in kit houses for years without realizing the historical and architectural significance of their humble abodes...


Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan premiered the idea of kit houses in 1906. It wasn't until 1908 that the largest provider of kit houses, Sears, Roebuck and Co., building upon its earlier forays into building materials and house plans, entered the market for complete kit houses. In the years that followed, Wardway Homes (Montgomery Ward), Harris Homes of Chicago, the Ready Built House Company, and Robinson's also got in on the kit home market.

Sears Roebuck is still the most well-known of kit home manufacturers, perhaps because of their market share. Ordering directly from a catalog entitled Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, prospective buyers enjoyed the convenience and affordability of a pre-fabricated dwelling. The purchaser would receive all of the necessary supplies in shipments by rail car (a typical house could fit into two boxcars) for assembly either by the new homeowner or a local contractor.

These houses came in a wide variety of styles, designs and prices, although kit houses were generally cheaper than traditional building options.


Following the stock market crash of 1929, the construction of these houses gradually declined and in 1940 Sears printed its last Book of Modern Homes.

For many years these house were slowly forgotten, but in the 1980s, people looking for affordable housing began to discover kit houses.

- University Libraries. University of Maryland, Kit Houses

"Between 1908 and 1940, Sears sold about 70,000 homes in 48 states through their mail-order Modern Homes program, with 370 designs that you might not readily recognize as a kit home. Sears kit homes were shipped via boxcar and came with a 75-page instruction book. Each kit contained 10,000 - 30,000 pieces and the framing members were marked to facilitate construction." - WikiHow, How to Identify a Sears Kit Home

See also:

Francis R. Kowsky, Sears and "Kit" Houses

The Rail Barons, Sears Catalog Houses

Thorne House, 16 Tillinghast Place


Photos and their arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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